The Village is situated 1½ hours from Sydney on a beautiful piece of rural land. When I arrived, it was 5pm and some of the members were heading towards the Village Centre, where in the fading winter twilight, a group were already gathered in the nearby Piazza and a couple of children were circling on their bikes. There was a vibrant buzz developing.
The Village Centre, a beautiful building of straw-bale construction, is simple, stylish and offers activities, meals, meetings and other get togethers. Upon entering, I was awed as much by its feel and sound qualities as by the warmth emanating from the floor and the sight of an alluring log fire in the centre of the open plan lounge. The area is flooded during the day with low northern sunshine in winter but shaded from the high summer aspect.
The adjacent cafeteria kitchen is sleek and very state of the art, hosting cooking classes and offering meals from local produce. The self-service area is off the kitchen and offers an array of fresh organic dishes some hot, some cold. There are two lunch payment options, a smaller plate for $10 and a larger plate for $15. I understand that members who sign up for lunch regularly receive a
discount and there is provision for working-off part of your cost by helping in the kitchen a day every now and then. Nearly 80% of residential members are enjoying the delicious, organic food on site, taking a plate of food home to enjoy in the evening or taking advantage of the new home delivery service.
In the middle of the building is a co-op, which sells the purest products, from toiletries and cleaning products, to natural clothing and food items. Staff are paid in time dollars (there are few volunteers in The Village) and work to bring members natural products at great cost savings. There is a sign near the counter, which reads, “We are always open to suggestions and encourage world-wide scouting and research.”
Beyond the co-op is the Fragrant Rose Health Centre, which offers massages, a steam room, a fully equipped gym and a growing number of workshops and health-related seminars. There is a strong health ethos in this village with total support, encouragement and knowledge sharing for taking full
responsibility for personal wellbeing. How easy it is to be healthy when the components of good health are so integrated and accessible.
Above the Health Centre is the Guesthouse, which offers single, double and twin rooms as well as a dormitory that is usually packed with a long stream of international WWOOFers who come to learn and work in The Village. The rooms are cosy, homey and stylish as well as spotlessly clean, crisp and sleek. Visitors come for holidays, detoxes, sustainable living courses and eco-village reconnaissance. Senior residents or those who are injured and require care through the Health Centre, can be sure that they will be well looked after too.
Also nearby is the Business Centre, fully equipped with the latest technology available to residents and guests at stylish workstations. Several small businesses in the community use the Centre to outsource their office needs. Pooling resources and expertise works well here, and such a wealth of expertise, knowledge and equipment, I have rarely seen so generously shared.
Back by the fireside, it is common to see many residents grouping between 5 and 6pm and today’s Happy Hour cocktail is carrot, celery and beetroot juice. Fresh juices are offered every evening in keeping with the health ethos of the village. Stories from the day were being exchanged.
At 6pm the monthly village meeting commenced and started with some short reports on general business. Decision-making in the village uses a form of Consensus, which is a more inclusive process than the ‘raise your hand’ method of voting and is thought to be more effective overall.
One of the most impressive attributes here is the sense of ownership and pride in the village itself. I have seen similar elsewhere in thriving sporting clubs. Each resident takes great care in the detail of the village and their generosity and commitment makes for continual improvement and verve.
The Village encourages the involvement of their surrounding and larger community in an open two-way mutual exchange. Membership of the association is open to all and members are kept up to date and informed by a monthly newsletter. It is often through becoming an association member, acclimatising and feeling comfortable with the Village that people want to take the next steps and move towards becoming a resident.
While leaving the village is simply a matter of leaving your rental accommodation or selling your home, existing residential members want people interested in joining them to be well acquainted with all aspects of life in this village. There are information evenings, workshops sessions, weekend visits and rental trial periods so that prospective residents can determine their most suitable form of accommodation and whether this lifestyle is for them.
After the meeting, most of the residents moved off to their homes, some with dinner plates from the cafeteria in hand. On any given night of the week, many residents will return to the Village Centre for a yoga class, a book club session, a photo/video presentation or to gather round the big screen to cheer on a resident’s son playing in his first 1st grade rugby game. Also, several time a week, the residents have a communal meal, they sign up during the days before if they wish to attend. There is as much or as little as you choose to do in the village.
The village has a healthy mix of people with varying ages, interests and finances but all have a commitment to taking responsibility for their health and well being, environment and mutual caring. Housing is comprised of attached apartments, townhouses and freestanding homes, which people either buy or rent in the usual manner. The common land and facilities are shared and the result is
a bit like our old, familiar strata title. Residents choosing to buy land and build their own home, team with the Village architect to find ecologically friendly alternatives that will also save them money into the future. Ongoing research is taking place to ensure that the Village is at the forefront of world
best-practice sustainable building techniques, and visitors come from all over to examine the clever interactive display area promoting environmentally friendly design, building and materials.
Each quarter, residential members pay an amount for maintenance and into the sinking fund which covers agreed capital expenditures. How they pay it off varies; they may choose to pay this monthly amount outright, work it off by offering their services in a commonly agreed upon way or a mix of the two.
There is an enormous sense of community in this village and an acceptance that whatever choices people make is totally OK. There also exists a healthy realism in this community that conflict will happen, but these residents see it as constructive and even attend seminars and workshops on Conflict Resolution to develop ways to handle such situations when they arise.
During my stay here, I met several overseas guests and was intrigued to hear their diverse reasons for visiting Australia and in particular, this village. Francois was from the south of France, here on ecovillage recognisance: “Madame”, he said “why would I reinvent the wheel, when all the properties of an ecologically sustainable, healthy and caring, functioning village are right here – n’est pas?” Mais oui, Francois!
With the openness, flexibility and lateral thought demonstrated by members in this village, I feel that almost anything is possible here. And as I drove away from this awesome place, Paul’s final words resonated loudly in my ears: “and Lyndall... we are having so much fun”.